Today, Peabody Energy—the largest private coal company in the world—launched Coal Cares, a website giving away free, Justin Bieber-themed inhalers to asthmatic children and providing other, pro-coal info to kids everywhere. Yes, coal gives people asthma, but it's still the "safest energy out there." There are word searches, a Kidz Koal Korner, and a promise that "for every 1,000 inhaler actuators donated via Coal Cares™, Peabody will make a $500 donation towards the cost of one lung-replacement therapy." It's also totally fake.
Beth Sutton, from Peabody, who sounds like she's not having a great day, sent us a statement extolling the benefits of coal use and energy production and confirming the site is fake:
Earlier today, an activist group released a "spoof" website claiming to be sponsored by Peabody Energy. The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal.
Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity. A growing collection of studies demonstrate the correlation between electricity fueled by low-cost coal and improvement in health, longevity and quality of life. The United Nations has linked life expectancy, educational attainment and income with per-capita electricity use, and the World Resources Institute found that for every 10-fold increase in per-capita energy use, individuals live 10 years longer.
Government statistics show that in the United States, coal use has more than tripled in the past several decades while regulated emissions have declined 84 percent. Peabody Energy is a global leader in clean coal solutions and is advancing more than a dozen clean coal projects around the world, leading to our ultimate goal of near-zero emissions from coal.
Read our story on the erroneous information in this statement here.
We suspect the Yes Men are behind this, or perhaps someone schooled at their Yes Labs, like last month's GE hoax. We've reached out to them for comment, and we'll update this post if we hear from anyone. A "spokesperson" from Coal Cares told us that "We're trying to help American families with the costs their seeing with their medication for asthma." When asked how she responded to claims from Peabody that the site, she implied a rift in Peabody's operations: "It's a new philosophy. Maybe some people don't agree with it. But we want to try to infuse business with the community we're a part of."
If you take more than five minutes to look at the site, you'll know its fake. Kids Koal Korner could all-too-easily be abbreviated KKK, for instance, and many of the links lead to environmental websites. But the coal industry—more tone deaf than most—has done things in the past that lead one to believe they could do something as silly as this. Remember these, entirely real pro-carbon commercials?
So, while Peabody is not actually giving away free inhalers, they're up to other poor PR moves. They even have counter on their website touting how much coal they've sold. They're up to 90 million tons just this year.
Update: Confirmed. The project was the work of the newly formed Coal Kills Kids, who worked with the Yes Lab for the last month and half to develop the site and concept. They're having a pretty busy day, but Janet Bellamy, told us that they launched "to make the point that pollution from coal companies is making kids sick." They worked with the Yes Lab to "get away from all the doom and gloom." The result: Bieber inhalers. They haven't yet heard from Peabody, and aren't expecting to, though previous Yes Men projects have been met with quick cease-and-desist letters and even website shutdowns. They're hoping Peabody just wants to keep this quiet.
[Big hat tip to Steve Silberman's Twitter feed]